Pharmacists should prescribe, Varadkar tells conference

Introducing practice in hospitals first may avoid conflict of interest, says Minister

Minister for Health Leo  Varadkar said allowing pharmacists to vaccinate against the flu saw almost 41,000 patients vaccinated in pharmacies during the 2013/2014 “flu season” - twice the number of patients vaccinated in the previous year. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said allowing pharmacists to vaccinate against the flu saw almost 41,000 patients vaccinated in pharmacies during the 2013/2014 “flu season” - twice the number of patients vaccinated in the previous year. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar is keen to see Irish pharmacists prescribing medicines, he told community pharmacists at their conference in Killarney this weekend.

“Nobody knows more about medicines than pharmacists,” Mr Varadkar said.

Prescribing by nurses had been a great success, the Minister added.

“I’d hope to see pharmacists prescribing as well ... perhaps starting with hospital pharmacists in particular,” the Minister said, departing from his script at the Irish Pharmacy Union conference in Killarney.

Mr Varadkar said a change in legislation would be necessary and the Pharmacy Act amended to allow it.

Pharmacists in other countries were allowed to prescribe, and introducing the practice in a hospital setting first would avoid suggestions of conflict of interest in the sale and prescription of drugs, he said.

This would not be achievable in the life-time of this Government, however.

A pilot Minor Ailment scheme, which the IPU has been seeking, was being introduced and meant more medicines would be available without needing a prescription from a GP, the Minister said.

The effectiveness of similar schemes for everyday ailments in other countries was already being studied by an expert group.

IPU president Kathy Maher said products available from a pharmacist in the UK required a prescription in Ireland.

‘Capable and willing’

“Pharmacists are very capable and willing to have a far broader range of medicines at our disposal to assist the public in dealing with everyday health complaints without having to face the expense or the hassle of visiting their overworked GP,” Ms Maher said.

She called for a broadening of the vaccination service offered by pharmacists here to bring the Irish service into line with the practice in other countries.

Mr Varadkar said allowing pharmacists to vaccinate against the flu saw almost 41,000 patients vaccinated in pharmacies during the 2013/2014 “flu season” - twice the number of patients vaccinated in the previous year.

Eighty-five per cent of those patients who had not previously been vaccinated were part of the “at risk” group.

Morning-after pill

The Minister has promised to look into a call by the IPU to extend the morning-after pill to women without prescription.

Currently, emergency hormonal contraception is available free of charge over the counter - but medical card holders are forced to attend their GP to get a prescription if they wish to get the morning-after pill free of charge.

Ms Maher said the current situation was “farcical” and did not serve (General Medical Services (GMS) patients well.

“It is unacceptable that a medicine which is known to be most effective within a 24-hour period cannot be accessed immediately free-of-charge by women with a medical card.”

The Minister added the new five-year integrated Masters level pharmacy degree to be implemented in September of this year across the three schools of pharmacy in Ireland is in line with best international practice.

This new programme will provide trainee pharmacists with work placements in the community, hospital and industry sectors.

This integration of academia and the workplace would give new pharmacists “a more rounded” experience.